August 02nd, 2012 | Global Times Detachment no longer serves Chinese interests in Middle East
Recently, within Chinese and Israeli intellectual circles, there has been a somewhat concealed debate as to whether China should be more involved diplomatically and even strategically in the Middle East conflict.
The US and Europe have been historically engaged in the region. China, despite its ever increased role in the international arena, is only mildly and moderately involved in this critical region, though the next global conflict might emerge from the Middle East.
For China, it is not enough to concentrate on the economic-commercial sphere. International trade and global interests relating to energy security cannot dwell separately from active diplomacy and at times even from interference of a kind in crucial regions.
It emerges that by the same token Israel too should give a more serious thought to the option of periodically reassessing its familiar China policy. The traditional line of mere “maintaining” or “servicing” Jerusalem’s relations with Beijing should be crossed, and a more assertive China policy should be adopted.
Israel might do well to encourage Beijing’s deeper involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as in the strong tensions between Jerusalem, Damascus and Tehran.
It can be argued that Sino-Israeli relations, or for that matter China-Middle East relations are not, as far as global international relations are concerned, so significant. US-China bilateral relations, the China-India-US triangle, or even Beijing’s dynamic role in the UN Security Council are by far more noteworthy. Nonetheless, the Middle East scene is most important, especially considering Israel’s military-strategic role and position in the Middle East equation.
It seems that there are signs that Beijing is getting gradually more interested in being fully involved in the peace process. Chinese envoys’ visits in Egypt, Jordan, Palestinian National Authority, Lebanon, Syria and Israel signal that a moderate change is taking place in Beijing’s approach to the Middle East.
September 2000 saw the outbreak of the second intifada. Like most of the world, the Chinese government has been and still is highly conscious of the threat of global terrorism.
This issue is directly related to the Middle East and constitutes a factor which is calling for China’s growing interest and even active diplomatic strategic involvement in the Middle East and in other regions it has hitherto shied away from. The Iranian issue too is a most crucial issue which can by no means leave Beijing indifferent to developments in the Middle East.
Yet China’s input in the Middle East has been only moderately felt. The “Quartet” of the US, EU, Russia, and the UN are still the main diplomatic players. Israel’s challenge is to have the Chinese emissary motivated to advance or at least understand better Israel’s diplomatic agenda.
China’s default position is after all to a great extent pro-Arab in view of its energy interests and its traditional political and ideological interests in third world countries. China’s oil import from the Middle East is also playing an important role with obvious repercussions on its global and Middle Eastern policies.
However, 2010, various senior Israeli ministers, office holders and IDF generals visited Beijing in an attempt to convince the Chinese authorities to adhere to the Israeli-US line concerning the imposition of sanctions on Iran. By the summer of 2011, one could notice a relative improvement in Sino-Israeli relations regarding defense and security matters.
There are clear indications that China is getting gradually more involved diplomatically and even strategically in the Middle East conflict. This is unavoidable in view of the emergence of a bi- or multi-polar international system in which the US and China are the main actors. China in fact has no option but to be more involved in Middle Eastern affairs.
The author is rector of Tel Aviv University and author of, most recently, Zhang Xueliang: The General Who Never Fought (2012), which has just been published in China.
By Aron Shai